The International Cricket Council decided to try to save Test matches yesterday by throwing money at them. Whether this will actually persuade more spectators to watch, provide the players with an incentive to perform better, or spur the weaker nations to mighty deeds may be open to considerable doubt.
But it is a start of sorts and the ICC were anxious to be seen to be doing something after the embarrassing abandonment of their plans for a World Test Championship, which had been their preferred panacea. The cash bonanza for the top four teams on 1 April each year is in any case relative.
It will rise from the $175,000 (£110,500) England will receive if they manage hold on to first place in the rankings this year to $450,000(284,000) in 2013, $475,000 in 2014 and $500,000 in 2015 with further increases envisaged thereafter. Although these are substantial figures they are perhaps not life changing when divided between perhaps 20 players plus backroom staff.
Haroon Lorgat, the ICC’s chief executive, said after the quarterly board meeting which approved the rise: “There were some board members who were not so sure of simply increasing the prize money. They supported the notion of promoting Test match cricket and asked exactly this question.
“We are working alongside this incentive to promote Test match cricket and there are various working groups underway. For some while we have talked about pitches being suitable to ensure a fair contest between bat and ball and the stadium facilities being conducive to getting families out there for five fill days.”
As part of the strategy the board also approved a $12m programme to improve standards in the lesser nations. Although there have been some superb Test matches lately, suggesting a game of the highest skill among closely matched opponents, much of that work was undone when Zimbabwe lost all 20 wickets in a day to New Zealand in Napier last week. (England’s 72 all out against Pakistan last Saturday was not quite that abject).
The ICC are also taking the first tentative steps to becoming a proper governing body. They received a report on necessary changes to their structure from the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, and will finally decide in April whether to proceed.
There is no certainty they will amend a system where India hold sway but it looks at least possible that the role of president will become ceremonial with a working chairman leading the organisation.